New or Used: A Soccer Mom, Off The Radar

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used a soccer mom off the radar

Ryan writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I’ve got a 2006 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon that I’ve had since new as my only car. It was my first new car and I got it right out of college. It is configured exactly as I planned and I still love it today just as much as when I bought it, and best of all, it’s paid off. I live in Denver and take the Jeep up on mountain trails and explore the Utah desert from time to time. Still, with 80,000 miles on the clock, the 4×4 is aging a bit. My plan is to retire the Jeep from its daily burdens and add a more sensible daily driver.

Camcords or a Fusion would be logical, but I’d like something a bit more sporting, but nothing crazy-go-nuts. Understated ability is what I’m after with a max budget around $20,000. After tackling a sizable car payment right out of college, I’m very gun shy about going with a new car again. I’m narrowing in on a previous generation Legacy GT or possibly a Mazda 6. Unlike the previous New or Used reader, I drove a new Legacy GT in 09 and loved it so much I came close to trading in the Jeep on it, but then I slapped myself back into reality. The Mazda has always held my attention, but I’ve got no experience with it.

A misguided friend of mine incessantly criticizes my affection for the Legacy on the basis that it is a quintessential soccer mom car. Despite his grossly inaccurate assessment of the Subie’s market, it underlies the fact that I’m looking for something a little off the radar, but pleasantly confident, inspiring, and enjoyable to drive. Do you have any ideas as to such a daily driver to compliment my Jeep or assessments of my “soccer mom” choices?

Sajeev Answers:

None of your Soccer Mom choices are bad, but perhaps your quest for something “a little off the radar” means you should buy a stereotypical mommy-mobile and hot rod the hell out of it. The V6 Camry, Accord V6, Fusion Sport (Appearance Package), or if you’re truly insane about being stealthy quick, a used Lexus ES or Lincoln MKZ. Yes, I said “quick” in the same sentence as these cars.

You are dying for a Q-ship, there’s no doubt about it. While these cars are all terrible for you in many ways, they all become moderately awesome with the right suspension upgrades: understeer reducing rear swaybars, for starters. Sticky tires, summer units since you have a Jeep as a spare vehicle. Bilstein-esque or Koni-ish types of shocks. And chassis braces to stiffen up the undercarriage bits a touch, as seen here. Plus, a Hondata or SCT tune to wake up the air-fuel ratios and transmission scheduling.

My choice? I can’t decide between a slightly used V6 Camry SE with the suspension and chassis tuning above, or a moderately used Lexus ES-Camry or Lincoln MKZ-Fusion with similar upgrades to compensate for the softer factory tuning. I believe either option will gives you what you want, but I like the idea of AWD in a well optioned, heavily depreciated Lincoln Fusion. The A/C seats (even in Colorado) are worth it.

Steve Answers:

If you like the car and it’s worth the 20k to you, buy it. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with buying a ‘soft’ car because as time goes by, the hard riding one can be an absolute bear as a daily driver.

Your ‘shoes’ are different from my shoes. My shoes stipulate that a youthful ride like yours should be worn until they start showing serious wear. Then get them resoled. In automotive terms this would mean getting new tires, struts, shocks, and perhaps even a nicer stereo system. Those items will collectively cost less than 10% of your new car and should usually last the next five to seven years.

Sajeev’s advice may be too buy. But to me the bigger question is whether you can ‘invest’ given what you have. For the love and passion of owning a truly covetous vehicle like a Wrangler Rubicon, I would recommend that route.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

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3 of 86 comments
  • Obruni Obruni on Mar 11, 2011

    keep the jeep! if you are really unhappy with it as a daily driver, get yourself $5000 worth of used civic/corolla/cobalt and call it a day.

    • Accs Accs on Mar 15, 2011

      obruni A Civic is better than a Cobalt... and better than a Corolla. But they are still a penalty box against a nicer car and forcing someone into one.. cause they dont know any better.. should be a crime.

  • Wmba Wmba on Mar 11, 2011

    I have a 2008 Legacy GT. It's great. Nobody knows what it is, and guys in RAMbo trucks and Z71's etc. swaggering around get a real big surprise if they crowd me. I just leave the area -- fast. Forget all the squabbling info above -- if you can find a 2008 or 09 Legacy, go for it. Why bother putting go faster bits on Toyotas or other vehicles? The Subie is fun when you need, a plodding servant in traffic that'll pull high gear right down to 1300rpm without bucking for some decent mileage on the commute. And I find it has a pretty good ride, certainly better than my brother's G37x. The fact you already like the GT from a previous drive shows you have great taste :) Indulge.

  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…